Stories in philanthropy

Next-gen donors: What you need to know

Philanthropy Australia CEO, Sarah Davies, unpacks the priorities and preferences of next-generation givers.

Sarah Davies

The impacts of generational change can be felt in all aspects of our society and philanthropy is no exception. The priorities and preferences of next-generation philanthropists (the term generally refers to givers aged 18-40) can be miles apart from those of their parents and predecessors.  

Though it’s easy to fall back upon stereotypes, the challenge for fundraisers is to understand the nuances of next-generation giving in order to develop meaningful relationships with potential philanthropic supporters. And it IS nuanced. Though there are some common characteristics shared by the majority of next-generation philanthropists, it would be a mistake to think a one-size-fits-all approach will hit the target every time. As with any donor relationship, the more time you spend getting to know your potential supporters, the better your chance of success.  


What sets next-gen philanthropists apart? 

1. They prefer engagement 

One of the biggest differences between next-generation givers and the generations of philanthropists that preceded them is a preference for more engaged philanthropy. Cheque book philanthropy is not part of their play book. They will seek (if not expect) opportunities to get engaged in the cause area and the work of the organisations they support, so stock up your events calendar. 

But, don’t be fooled into thinking that engagement translates into instant support. Most younger philanthropists will spend a good amount of time researching and observing before they give money. In our work at Philanthropy Australia we know plenty of next-gen givers who spend months and years getting to know an organisation, even serving on the Board, before they make a significant donation.   

2. It’s not just about the money 

Given that engagement is high on the list of priorities for next-gen philanthropists, it should come as no surprise to fundraisers that ‘engagement’ for this group goes beyond financial support. When it comes to giving, next-gen givers believe in the four T’s: time, treasure, talent and ties. They like to use their voice and their influence and you could be just as likely to benefit from their extensive professional networks as you will from their treasure.  

3. They’re not fans of stale, stuffy or stagnant organisations 

In the majority of cases, next-gen philanthropists are intrigued by smaller, more nimble organisations that are trying new approaches to make a positive difference in the world. They don’t like pursuing social change in tired, traditional ways – they’re looking for fresh ideas that have the potential to deliver sustainable change.  

4. They believe in the power of business to do good 

Following on from the point above, many next-gen philanthropists have generated their wealth through their own businesses and strong sense of entrepreneurialism. They’re quite partial to applying business skills and a business mindset to tough social issues which is why they’re incorporating giving in their own business models and why they’re fans of social enterprise models and impact investing as vehicles for effecting social change.  

5. They want to see real impact 

Given the business acumen many next-gen givers bring to their philanthropy, a vague statement about potential impact will get you nowhere. Their expectations about efficacy are high and if you’re not able to articulate how their support will contribute to tangible impacts, you could struggle to attract their support.  

6. They believe in the power of technology 

This is a generation that has grown up with the internet and digital technology. They count technology as an integral part of any endeavour, both in terms of finding solutions and streamlining processes.   

7. They favour issues of their time 

While it’s neither possible, nor a good idea, to generalise about the preferred cause areas of an entire generation of givers, it would be fair to say that younger philanthropists tend to seek greater involvement in contemporary issues such as climate change, marriage equality and the plight of refugees and asylum seekers. That’s not to say that they’re not interested in education or social welfare – they just tend to have a clearly defined goal in mind for their giving. 

8. They will come and go depending on stage of life 

While giving is an important part of their lives, the involvement of next-gen philanthropists in their cause areas tends to ebb and flow in line with life stages. Not surprisingly, their engagement usually slows when they start a family or embark on a new business venture, and they may, or may not, return to the cause after an absence.   


The caveat 

Even the most sophisticated understanding of these characteristics of next-gen givers is no guarantee of sustained fundraising success.  

Though it’s not a trait that’s exclusive to next-generation philanthropists, younger givers can sometimes be quite changeable in terms of the cause areas that receive their attention. They may also still be learning about resourcing limitations of not-for-profits in their day-to-day operations. Just as their understanding of an issue will become more sophisticated the deeper they dive into it, so too will their knowledge of not-for-profits and their experience of change-making. It’s in all our interests to help build that knowledge and involvement.  


This story was first published in Fundraising & Philanthropy magazine. 

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez.

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